>> Monday, December 14, 2009
Everyone who loves the "North Country" of New York has a different notion of what the "North Country" is geographically.
I have colleagues who are from Pulaski, and to them that constitutes the North Country. Pulaski doesn't seem far enough north to me - it's too close to a real airport to feel remote enough - although anyone who's been there during salmon run can attest that it's a completely different universe from Syracuse.
Watertown feels way too developed to constitute "North Country", but it certainly has its own personality, too.
People who live in the Adirondacks surely think of the Adirondacks as the North Country, but while I deeply love the cool, green, rocky, woodsy, mountainousness of the Adirondacks, I don't know them well enough to feel like they're home. (At least not yet).
So what's my North Country, then? Not that you can read the map below, but it roughly shows it. The red tag is in Canton, where I lived for a while. It stretches northeast to Massena, south into the Adirondack foothills, southwest along Route 11 and over to the St. Lawrence River.
My husband grew up outside of Canton, in Rensselaer Falls (pronounced "Rensler" if you're from there), and his father's family goes back generations in the Ogdensburg area. That area is so far north that, when my husband tells non-North Country people where he's from, the inevitable response is, "Wow. That's practically in Canada, eh?"
Spouse and I were up in our North Country this past weekend. We go annually for a fundraising event at the Remington Museum in Ogdensburg (more on that later). The photos are from Sunday, which was leaden-skied and grim, pouring down cold, uninteresting rain. And yet the landscape still made my heart ache. I miss the area so much.
So what is it about our North Country that my husband and I love so much? We contemplated on our way home whether our love for the North Country is just a golden glow effect created by time and distance and our missing simpler days, rather than an accurate reflection of reality.
Huh. A North Country version of noblesse oblige.
That kind of neighborliness highlights what I found in the North Country. Oh, sure, the North Country has snotty people and rich people and uppity people and rude people. It's got broken homes and just plain mean people, too.
But I found overall that I knew who my neighbors were, and I liked it. I knew who was going for cancer treatments for the second time, and who just lost his job and needed coats for the kids but couldn't afford them. I knew who had raspberries they'd be happy to let me pick so long as I picked them some while I was at it. I knew all the teenaged boys in the neighborhood, and which ones needed a little extra guidance and an occasional breakfast because they didn't get it at home. I had neighbors who snow blowed out my driveway for me, and strangers who brought our cat home when he got lost (everybody recognized that cat - he was so big he was unmistakable). Going to the grocery store was a mighty long affair, because I would run into at least 15 people I knew, and had to have a long chat with the cashier about her straying boyfriend while she was checking me out.
We rooted for each other. We wanted the local businesses to succeed and did our best to help them.
The pace of life in the North Country was just plain slower. Life in Syracuse, in contrast, seems harder, and sharper. I know a lot of people here, too, and like some of them more than I can express, but the overall atmosphere is more harsh. Drivers are more aggressive, and the strangers are less friendly on the street.
I love my little village outside of Syracuse, and it's a bit closer to North Country living just because it's a small town, but it isn't the same. No place else can quite capture that North Country feeling, and I never manage to achieve that slower pace of life here. I like having to stop on my way home for wild turkeys and even free-range chickens and pet ducks to cross the road in front of me.